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Tribal Leaders Appeal To UN For Help

Tegan Wendland
Only one road leads to Isle de Jean Charles, where about 98 percent of the land has washed away since the 1950's due to subsidence and the erosion of oil and gas canals.

Native American tribes in Louisiana and Alaska are asking the United Nations for help. Tribal leaders say climate change is destroying their communities and forcing them to relocate.

Rising seas and bigger storms are threatening tribal communities all across the country. In Louisiana, several tribes live in areas along the coast that are washing away fast, due to coastal erosion, sea level rise and the erosion of canals carved by oil and gas companies.

Shirell Parfait-Dardar is tribal chief of the Grand Caillou/Dulac Band of Biloxi-Chitimatcha-Choctaw, in lower Terrebonne. She says, for a long time, they had planned to stay put. But now many of her people are moving north, to safety. 

“I recently found out that there is no way to save our community, and it looks like our community could be gone in as little as 20 years,” she says.

She is joined by Louisiana tribal leaders from the Isle de Jean Charles Band of Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw, Pointe-au-Chien Indian Tribe and Grand Bayou Village, and by the Kivalina in Alaska.

In their appeal to the UN, they say that inaction on the part of the federal government has led to the loss of ancestral land, destruction of sacred burial sites and the endangerment of cultural traditions, heritage, health and life. They call it a violation of human rights, and want the UN to step in and force the U.S. government to help, and to hold oil and gas companies accountable for the damage they have caused on the coast.

The complaint was filed in Geneva by the Alaska Institute for Justice, an Anchorage-based nonprofit.

The federal government has offered assistance to one Native American group in Louisiana. The Isle de Jean Charles Band of Biloxi-Chitimatcha-Choctaw received a high-profile, one-time grant from the U.S. Department of Urban Development back in 2016.

But in a call with press on Thursday, professor Patricia Ferguson-Bohnee, a member of the Pointe-au-Chien Indian Tribe, said that that project amounted to a forced relocation, and that the state is not involving the tribe enough in the process. Meantime, the The Louisiana Office of Community Development has set January 31 as the deadline for residents of that island to apply to be relocated.

Support for the Coastal Desk comes from the Greater New Orleans Foundation and the Walton Family Foundation.

Tegan has reported on the coast for WWNO since 2015. In this role she has covered a wide range of issues and subjects related to coastal land loss, coastal restoration, and the culture and economy of Louisiana’s coastal zone, with a focus on solutions and the human dimensions of climate change. Her reporting has been aired nationally on Planet Money, Reveal, All Things Considered, Morning Edition, Marketplace, BBC, CBC and other outlets. She’s a recipient of the Pulitzer Connected Coastlines grant, CUNY Resilience Fellowship, Metcalf Fellowship, and countless national and regional awards.

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